Don't mess with our initiation rites, say chiefs
Customary Initiation Bill consultations have just started, but already traditional leaders are fuming
Public consultations about the Customary Initiation Bill have only just started, and already it is being met with a backlash from traditional leaders. One chief has threatened to advise people not to adhere to any decision “tampering” with tradition.
The bill aims to provide effective regulation of initiation schools, and generally conditions around customary initiation. This comes after 21 deaths were registered nationally for the 2018 initiation season. According to Nkululeko Nxesi, executive director of Man and Boy Foundation, 20 deaths were reported in the Eastern Cape and one in Gauteng.
Mzameni Richard Mdakane, chairperson of the portfolio committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs, said the first consultation on Monday in Port Elizabeth was well received.
“The public consultations are not just about complying with the Constitution; we come to our people and engage them because they themselves have solutions. One person dying is one too many. We are not trying to take away culture from the people, but to establish a framework in which we will be able to regulate the practice.”He said if the bill is signed into law, it will enable government to easily clamp down on criminals luring people into unsafe and illegal initiation schools. “All these criminal syndicates taking advantage of the cultural practice must be arrested.”
He said the bill aims to protect, promote and regulate both male and female initiation across the country.
This will be made possible through oversight and coordinating structures at the national and provincial spheres of government to ensure that initiation takes place in a controlled environment.
The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) however slammed the public hearings.
Chief Mathupa Mokoena‚ president of Contralesa, said the consultations were just another scheme by government officials to waste public funds.“They started on a wrong footing. They should have consulted us. We are the people who know what’s happening on the ground and we have vast knowledge of our culture,” Mokoena said.
He was less than impressed with some of the proposals in the bill, calling them unrealistic.
“If this is meant to tamper with and destroy our tradition, we will tell our people to not follow it. We are warning the government to stop doing their own things and involve everyone. If they are serious they will do thorough consultations in villages and not some town hall,” he added.Mokoena was concerned about the bill’s proposal on how to deal with consent and age restrictions.
According to the draft, all persons taking part in initiation must file a written consent beforehand. This must be submitted to the principal of the particular initiation school.
Mokoena said it would be difficult to manage as young men and women often go into schools under the influence of their friends. “Sometimes the parents don’t even know. Once they find out they accept it, that’s how it generally happens”.
Mokoena said some of the initiation schools are doing it for financial gain and not to uphold culture.
Wednesday’s public hearings will be held in the town halls of Mthatha, Kokstad and Flagstaff respectively.
On Thursday they will continue at Qwaqwa, and on Friday in Kuruman. These will be followed on Saturday by meetings in the Rustenburg and Jane Furse town halls respectively.
Next Tuesday the hearings resume in KwaMhlanga and Vereeniging.